Diagnosis of Infertility in Women
by Alayne Ronnenberg, ScD
Infertility occurs in about 10% of couples. The chance of women without infertility problems conceiving after 6 months of trying is 50%-65%. The chance after 12 months is more than 85%. The chance after 18 months is more than 95%.
Typically, a diagnosis of infertility is not made until after at least 1 year of attempted conception in a healthy couple. The diagnosis can be made earlier if there are known risk factors for infertility, irregular menstrual cycle, or increased age.
When you see your doctor, he or she will ask about your symptoms and will take a detailed family and medical history. You should expect questions about:
A complete physical exam will be done. It will include a pelvic exam, Pap smear, and examination of your breasts and thyroid gland.
Ovulation Tests and Tests of Ovarian Function TOP
Several different tests are used to see if you have been ovulating and to predict when you might ovulate again. Ovulation testing is also used to assess your ability to produce eggs. It is also used to determine if your uterus is receptive to pregnancy during the second half of your menstrual cycle (after ovulation and just before your period, known as the luteal phase).
Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
Taking your BBT (at rest, when you first wake up) and recording it on a chart is a way to document whether you have ovulated and when ovulation has occurred. Your BBT rises at ovulation. It remains elevated during the second half of your cycle and throughout pregnancy.
Blood tests are used to measure hormone levels. Blood concentrations of estrogen and luteinizing hormone (LH) rise just before ovulation. High blood concentrations of the hormone progesterone indicate that ovulation has occurred recently. Your doctor may also measure other hormones to evaluate overall endocrine function.
Transvaginal ultrasound is used to track the growth of the follicle, which is the place in the ovary where the egg matures. The follicle grows during the first half of your menstrual cycle (from the beginning of your period until ovulation). This is known as the follicular phase.
Tests of Ovarian Function
Day 3 FSH
This blood test is taken on day 3 of your menstrual cycle (the third day of bleeding). It measures the concentration of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that controls the development of eggs. High levels of FSH may indicate that a woman’s ovaries are not working properly. Very low levels of FSH can prevent a woman from producing eggs. Your doctor will interpret your results for you.
Day 3 Estradiol Tests
This blood test measures the amount of estrogen (also called estradiol or E2) in your blood. Levels that are unusually high may indicate poor egg quality.
Day 21 Serum Progesterone
This blood test measures circulating progesterone, which should be elevated about 1 week after ovulation. Levels that are low may indicate suboptimal ovulation.
Diagnosing Uterine and Other Physical Abnormalities TOP
Several tests can be performed to determine whether the anatomy of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and vagina is normal.
A pelvic exam can reveal many abnormalities, including conditions such as uterine fibroids. Fibroids are benign, muscular tumors in the uterine wall that can contribute to infertility by distorting the uterus, blocking the cervix or fallopian tubes, or interfering with uterine blood supply needed for the embryo to implant and grow.
HSG is an x-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes that is usually performed in the first half of the menstrual cycle. Water- or oil-based dyes are used to identify structural abnormalities in the uterus or fallopian tubes.
An ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina to take a picture of the pelvic organs.
During this procedure, a hysteroscope (tiny telescope mounted with a fiber optic light) is inserted through the cervix to look inside the uterus and identify abnormalities that may have appeared in an HSG.
Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure. It is performed under general anesthesia. Your doctor will insert a small camera and fiber optic light through a small incision in your navel. This allows the doctor to get a clear view of your pelvic cavity, including your ovaries, the outside of your fallopian tubes, and uterus. If certain abnormalities are found, such as adhesions or endometriosis, a laser mounted on the scope can be used to remove them.
Evaluating infertility. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at:
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Updated February 2016. Accessed May 18, 2017.
Infertility in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated July 12, 2016. Accessed May 18, 2017.
Last reviewed May 2017 by Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
Last Updated: 12/20/2014
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